The first half of the book features Viktor Gorgachuk. Born in the USSR, his Orthodox parents keep his birth a secret by bribing the midwife. When Viktor is four, he is left at a remote monastery for eight years. Here he is educated and then released to his parents at twelve years of age.
About this time, the midwife reveals the secret birth to the KGB, who begin a search for Viktor. The parents secretly leave Viktor with a family of Pentecostals and flee to Vladivostok where they are discovered by the KGB. Refusing to divulge Viktor's location, they are killed. Five years later, Viktor flees the USSR and immigrates to the United States.
Viktor's escape from the KGB after the murder of his parents, and his adventures leading up to his immigration to America, is a riveting story.
The second half follows Viktor in America. Here he becomes a leading pastor within Evangelicalism, which is seriously divided theologically. At one end of the divide are Pentecostals who believe supernatural spiritual gifts are active today and speaking in tongues is required evidence of Spirit baptism. At the other end are Cessationists who believe supernatural gifts of the Spirit ceased after the New Testament was completed.
Pentecostal Pastor Viktor Gorgachuk becomes close friends with Cessationist Pastor Bill Ballard. They deplore the division within Evangelicalism. Both are committed to scripture as the ultimate authority for faith and practice. They agree to study each other's doctrine to determine what scripture says. Each agrees to follow scripture if the result of his search demands it.
The interaction between two sincere preachers searching for truth is compelling. It's a story that thousands of evangelicals and others searching for spiritual reality can relate to. Join the Truth Seekers if you dare.
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The Truth Seekers
By R. Glenn Brown
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2014 R. Glenn Brown
All rights reserved.
The Vashchenkos and Gorgachuks
My name is William Ballard, better known as Pastor Bill to several thousand members of Sundale Community Church in suburban Sacramento, California. As pastor of one of the better-known churches in our state's capital, I became acquainted with many interesting human beings. Well-known politicians, entertainers, business entrepreneurs, athletes, scientists, theologians, educators ... The list goes on and on. Some had visited my church. Others I had met in conferences or professional meetings of one sort or another. Of all the people I have known, none has impressed me as much or influenced me more than a Russian immigrant by the name of Viktor Gorgachuk.
This book is essentially the story of this fascinating man who eventually became a trusted, close friend. Much of what I write was shared by Viktor himself. Some I learned as I interviewed friends or associates of Viktor and his parents. Some scenes I had to gather from newspapers and other news sources and piece them together with an educated imagination. I must admit there are a few times I had to use my general knowledge of the characters to describe what likely took place. I think you will recognize these scenes when they occur.
I first heard of Viktor from talking to members of the Vashchenko family when I visited the Seattle area. I developed an intense interest in this Russian family as a result of the press coverage they received after their daring invasion of the United States Embassy in Moscow in 1978. This bold attempt to escape religious persecution made headlines around the western world. Five of the large Vashchenko family were part of this Pentecostal group that the press labeled the Siberian Seven. I was nineteen and attending the University of Washington at the time. Friends have asked me why a boy from Southern California ever ended up in Seattle, the rain capital of the West Coast. Two reasons. I was offered an athletic scholarship in baseball that solved my tuition problem. The second was my favorite aunt, Dad's sister, Tina. She phoned me when she heard I was considering attending the University of Washington.
"Billy," Aunt Tina said. I'll always be Billy to her. "This is your Aunt Tina. I hear you are considering coming to our university. I am so excited. I live only four blocks from the campus. I have two spare bedrooms, and one would work perfectly for you. You must stay with me. It won't cost you a dime, although I know that brother of mine will insist on paying me. He is a much better giver than a receiver. But that will be between your dad and me."
"Aunt Tina," I said, "how generous of you. I am considering enrolling in UW but don't know yet what freshmen housing requirements are. I may have to live on campus for the first year. Some universities require that, I'm told. If not, I'd love to take you up on your offer."
As it turned out, I stayed with Aunt Tina for three of the four years I was at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1981, I enrolled in Dallas Seminary where I studied for five more years, graduating with twin degrees of Master of Divinity and Master of Theology. If the truth were known, I had not come near mastering either. After graduation, I sensed the Lord leading me to start a new church in the Sundale subdivision of Sacramento. I accepted the challenge and have been part of this tumultuous community ever since.
From some news source, I had discovered that August in a Vashchenko and some of her children had settled in the Seattle area of Washington. When visiting Aunt Tina, I think it was 1989, I decided to try to make arrangements to meet Augustina Vashchenko. I remember the occasion quite clearly. I discovered that she had settled not far from Seattle in the town of Puyallup. I found her telephone number and called her.
"Haloo," answered a female voice with an obvious accent.
"Hello," I said. "Is this Mrs. Augustina Vashchenko?
"Da. Who speak?"
"This is Pastor Bill Ballard," I said. "I have been fascinated by the story of you and your family ever since I read about it in Parade magazine when I was a student here. I so admire your family's determination to persevere in seeking religious freedom in the face of cruel opposition. I would love to meet you. Is that possible?"
"You pastor?" she asked. "Not newspaper man? You preach gospel?"
"Yes, Mrs. Vashchenko," I said, "I really am a pastor. I have started a small church in a suburb of Sacramento, California. I am visiting my aunt in Seattle and will be here three more days. Would it be convenient for me to visit you before I leave?"
"Pastor, I little speak English. I ask doichka Vera. If she help, I see you. Call zaftra. I say if okay."
"Thank you, Mrs. Vashchenko," I said. "I will call you tomorrow morning, and I hope Vera can help. I would like very much to meet her, too." I called the next day, and a different feminine voice responded.
"Hello, Vera speaking."
"Hello, this is Pastor Bill Ballard. I called yesterday and talked to your mother. Did she tell you?"
"Yes, she did. She is quite excited that a pastor from Sacramento, California, wants to speak to her. She has become weary of repeating our story to reporters and was determined not to give more interviews. However, she will welcome you, Pastor Ballard, as will I. She never tires of having fellowship with other believers. Would 1:00 p.m. be a convenient time for you?"
"Thank you, Vera. Whatever is convenient for you will work fine for me. May I bring my Aunt Tina with me? She is intrigued by your story and would love to meet you. I think she and your mother will have some things in common, including their ages."
"Without asking, I know Mother would enjoy meeting your aunt," said Vera. "Since father died, she especially enjoys friends her age."
We were not only able to see Augustina and her daughter, Vera, but actually became good friends with both. Whenever I fly to Seattle to see Aunt Tina, I go to visit Augustina and Vera. It was during these visits I first heard about Viktor Gorgachuk and his parents. Of course, I was to learn much more as a result of the relationship I eventually developed with Viktor himself.
I was fascinated by what Augustina and Vera shared about the Gorgachuk family even before I met Viktor. He had been born in Russia of devout Orthodox parents in 1966, just two years after Khrushchev was deposed. When Khrushchev first came to power, he initiated a renewed vendetta against religion in general and Christianity in particular. There was public reaction against the brutality of Khrushchev's oppression. From a pragmatic viewpoint, the government saw that brutality did little to quell religious fervor. After Khrushchev was deposed, Brezhnev continued the persecution but in a less violent, more insidious way. He ordered the schools to be flooded with anti-religion and pro-atheism literature of all sorts and for all age groups. Children were the primary targets, and conquest of the mind was the ultimate objective. Viktor's parents were determined to prevent their son from becoming exposed to the atheistic-communist education system.
In 1970 when Viktor was four years old his parents, Vasil and Natasha Gorgachuk accepted the offer of a monastic relative to shelter their son in his isolated monastery where learned monks could educate him. He was an exceptionally brilliant child with a remarkable photographic memory. He had already conquered the Cyrillic alphabet and learned to read and write Russian before coming to the monastery. One of the scholarly monks began to tutor him in the original biblical languages of Hebrew and Koine Greek. By the time he was ten years old, he was sight reading the ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Another monk took him under his wing and schooled him in Latin. Before long, he was reading the early church fathers in both Greek and Latin. Another monk taught him principles of mathematics. By the time he left the monastery in 1978, he had also learned English and Ukrainian. He essentially had the equivalent of advanced degrees in five languages plus theoretical mathematics at scarcely twelve years old.CHAPTER 2
A Trust Relationship Formed
When Viktor returned home after eight years, his parents recognized they had a child prodigy in their care. How to further his education without arousing suspicion from the authorities was a troubling challenge. To get further away from the central government, his parents decided to move to Siberia. They didn't trust the Orthodox hierarchy since the patriarchate of Moscow had compromised his office with the KGB.
They traveled over three thousand kilometers east from Moscow all the way to Chernogorsk in south central Siberia in the republic of Khakassia. Vasil was able to find employment as a bookkeeper in the strip mining coal industry. He soon became friends with another employee of the mine, a heavy-machine operator named Pyotr Vashchenko. In the course of several months, Natasha, Vasil's wife, and Augustina, Pyotr's wife, also became friends, and the families began socializing regularly. The Vashchenkos had twelve children, six girls and six boys, including a son near Viktor's age. Viktor was the Gorgachuks' only child.
As the Gorgachuks and Vashchenkos became better acquainted, they began to become more open and trusting. One evening, Vasil and Natasha were invited to the Vashchenkos to "get to know each other better, heart to heart." Pyotr revealed that he was a member of a religious group that was on the government's hit list. He was a non-registered Pentecostal, which meant that he had refused to join the government's approved All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. The Soviets had assigned registered Pentecostals and Baptists to the same administrative organization. Those registered received concessions that the unregistered were refused.
Pyotr explained: "For conscience sake I refused to register because I did not want to be officially associated with an atheistic government. It cost me dearly. I was sentenced to prison for two years doing forced labor. My children were taunted and ridiculed in school. Even the teachers mocked them and gave them lower grades though their work was superior. When I was released from labor camp, I applied for permission to immigrate to America. I knew I must get my family out of this godless land.
"I was arrested and sentenced to serve time in a psychiatric hospital. When I asked the attending doctor what my diagnosis was, he replied, 'Anyone who requests to leave the Soviet Union must be insane.' I was released from the hospital and then sentenced to another year in the labor camp. Those were difficult days for me and my family." Pyotr spoke slowly, pausing to gain control of his emotions.
Vasil and Natasha listened attentively. When Pyotr continued to pause, Vasil spoke up. "I know you and your family have endured outrageous abuse and maltreatment because of your religious convictions. However, Pentecostals are not the only ones who have been persecuted. Under Stalin, tens of thousands of Orthodox priests were murdered or sentenced to slave labor camps. Those that remained were intimidated, and many became agents of the NKVD and later the KGB. Stalin eased his persecution during WWII and revived the structure of the Orthodox Church to gain patriotic support for the war effort. He then presented Russia to the West as the defender of Christian civilization in order to gain support from western nations.
"This relaxation of terror continued for fourteen years after the war's end. I know thousands of churches were reopened in Russia during this period. However, this does not mean the war against Christianity was relaxed. It had only entered a different phase, targeting the mind instead of the body. Schools were ordered to intensify their efforts to instill atheism in the mind of every student. The public education system was ordered to reactivate atheistic propaganda at every level."
As Vasil paused for a moment, Pyotr said, "Vasil, why do you think our government is so determined to eliminate religion from our national life? What are the authorities afraid of?"
"Truth, Pyotr. They are afraid of truth. They deny God because they want the state to be supreme and all-powerful. It's ancient Rome all over again. Caesar is lord and is determined to destroy any competitor. This battle between would-be gods and the true and living God has gone on throughout human history. We are the heirs of ancient martyrs portrayed in the last portion of the holy apostolic letter to the Hebrews. I read it often, Pyotr, and it has become inscribed firmly in my memory. Listen. Some were tortured and refused to be released, so that they may gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. Is this not a description of our existence? Why do we endure the government's opposition? Why do we not surrender our faith and deny the reality of a living God? Answer me that, Pyotr."
"I can only answer for myself, Vasil, and I will in due course. However, I think it is time to bring our wives into our conversation. I want Augustina to reply to your question. She has a more difficult role to play than even I in our struggle against a godless government."
Augustina, a full-figured brunette with streaks of gray, retained vestiges of the physical charm that had attracted Pyotr. Running a household of twelve children had clothed her with a mantle of gentle authority. She smiled and then began to speak.
"I will share some of our journey, but Pyotr must help me. I was once part of the communist conspiracy to eliminate God from Soviet society and culture. I thought it exciting to be involved in a bold venture to build a classless society by human effort with no religious restrictions to hinder us. To have no God to which I must answer emboldened me to engage in a pleasure-seeking lifestyle, which I am now ashamed to describe. I joined several atheistic organizations dedicated to advancing our godless goals.
"Our world was hemmed in and defined by materialism. Human beings were a chance product of unknown materialistic forces and had no destiny beyond death. Any value for one's brief existence could only be determined by the yardstick of humanistic materialism. There was never an objective yardstick for 'value,' but it was always controlled by the subjective whim of those in power.
"I became disillusioned and recognized that I was now part of a system that cared nothing for me as an individual. I had value only if I contributed to the goals determined by those in authority. The idealism of my youth was being destroyed by the injustice, corruption, and depravity of communism. I began to question my commitment to a society that renounced God. What if there actually was a God to whom I must give an account?
Excerpted from The Truth Seekers by R. Glenn Brown. Copyright © 2014 R. Glenn Brown. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
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Table of Contents
Introductory Material, xi,
Chapter 1 The Vashchenkos and Gorgachuks, 1,
Chapter 2 A Trust Relationship Formed, 5,
Chapter 3 The Secret, 11,
Chapter 4 More Secrets and a Plan, 17,
Chapter 5 Persevering Through Trial, 23,
Chapter 6 The Saga of the Siberian Seven Begins, 28,
Chapter 7 The Warning, 34,
Chapter 8 The Flight, 43,
Chapter 9 The Flight Foiled, 49,
Chapter 10 The Saga of the Siberian Seven Continues, 53,
Chapter 11 Politics and Publicity, 58,
Chapter 12 The Fast Begins, 64,
Chapter 13 The Wreck, 71,
Chapter 14 Love Your Enemy, 77,
Chapter 15 The Transformation, 83,
Chapter 16 Getting Ready for the KGB Showdown, 89,
Chapter 17 My Partner, Vitali, 96,
Chapter 18 The Interrogation Room, 102,
Chapter 19 Martyrs, 109,
Chapter 20 Alexander's Experiment Concludes, 115,
Chapter 21 Viktor, 119,
Chapter 22 Josef, 125,
Chapter 23 Josef and Alexander, 130,
Chapter 24 Rabbi Cohen, 136,
Chapter 25 Anchors Aweigh, 144,
Chapter 26 Professor Phillip King, 152,
Chapter 27 Sponsors George and Kathleen McGinnis, 158,
Chapter 28 The Graduation Present, 167,
Chapter 29 The Seminarian, 172,
Chapter 30 A Servant to Immigrants, 177,
Chapter 31 "Christians Together" Is Launched, 182,
Chapter 32 Anna, 187,
Chapter 33 God's Will or Mine, 198,
Chapter 34 Love and Marriage, 204,
Chapter 35 Rapid Congregational Growth, 209,
Chapter 36 The Bonding of Pastor Bill and Brother Viktor, 214,
Chapter 37 The "Search for Truth" Pact Inaugurated, 222,
Chapter 38 Bill's First Report on Tongues as Evidence of Spirit Baptism, 228,
Chapter 39 Viktor's Second Report on Cessationism, 233,
Chapter 40 Bill's Second Report on Evidential Tongues, 238,
Chapter 41 Viktor's Third Report on Cessationism, 246,
Chapter 42 The Search Culminates July 14, 2009, 254,
Chapter 43 Yes, Lord, Where You Lead We Will Follow, 263,